Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 7- Following Whispers of the Past

The Ebon Hawk's departure from Dantooine was as uneventful as Carth liked it. Their flight from Taris was not something he wanted to repeat any time soon. Once safely traveling through hyperspace, Carth and Ev left their station in the cockpit and joined the rest of the crew in the central part of the ship. Everyone settled in for a long hyperspace journey. Even at the Ebon Hawk's speeds, it would take them over one standard day to reach Kashyyyk.

By the time Ev and Carth joined the rest of the crew, Mission had already challenged Canderous to a game of pazaak. Zaalbar watched on thoughtfully. Juhani propped herself up in an unoccupied corner, staring vacantly up at the ceiling. Only Bastila was missing.

“Probably off meditating somewhere,” Ev murmured, clearly wondering the same thing as Carth.

Carth, having prepared for the long nothingness of hyperspace, pulled out a datapad loaded with all of the most recent updates from the war front. He found an unoccupied seat and sat down, pouring over it.

Ev seemed to ponder the pazaak game for a minute before heading over to Juhani's corner and sinking down onto the ground next to where she sat.

“You look like something's bothering you, Juhani,” Ev observed gently.

“Ah, Ev Pell,” Juhani said, shaken out of her thoughts, “I must thank you again for what you did for me back on Dantooine. I can only hope that in coming along, I can make it up to you. I am very sorry for how I treated you in the grove.”

“You don't have to be,” Ev reassured her, “You had been consumed by the Dark Side. You weren't in your right mind.”

“All the same, I am sorry,” Juhani persisted, “Will you accept my apology?”

“Of course,” Ev nodded. After a pause, she added, “I'm sorry about your master.”

As he stared at the datapad, Carth found himself following their conversation rather than reading the reports in front of him.

“Ah, Quatra,” Juhani said thoughtfully, “She did not die as I had supposed, although I wounded her severely. By the time I returned to the Enclave, she had been healed and left Dantooine on other duties. She had nothing more to teach me.”

“Well, I'm glad,” Ev replied, “But it's too bad you didn't get to say goodbye, or even sorry.”

“It is best this way,” Juhani replied calmly, “Perhaps I was growing too attached to her. Farewells are always difficult.”

The cabin fell quiet again, only cut by the noise of pazaak cards slapping a-rhythmically down on the table.

“I am glad that I can help you, and that in this we are working towards ending the war,” Juhani said after a long pause. “After what the Sith did to Taris...”

“You've been to Taris?” Ev asked.

“I grew up there,” Juhani said shortly.

“On Taris?” Ev clarified.

Juhani nodded. “Even after how terrible the humans were to my parents, after how miserable my life was there, it was still my home,” Juhani continued sadly. “I can't believe anyone could do something so horrible as destroying the whole city.”

“It's crazy what the Dark Side can do to someone,” Ev agreed darkly, “I would never have imagined that Darth Malak would have gone that far, but he did. Now we know what he's capable of.”

“Which is why we must do everything we can to stop him,” Juhani agreed forcefully. “Taris must be avenged.”

“You grew up on Taris too?” Mission asked, overhearing them. She turned to Zaalbar and passed her deck of cards into his furry hand, “Big Z, finish this round for me.” With that, she scurried across the cabin and sat down with them. “What did you think of it?” she asked eagerly.

“Taris was a cesspool of corruption and hate,” Juhani spat bitterly.

“It wasn't that bad,” Mission argued, taken aback by Juhani's forcefulness, “I mean, it had it's great points to.”

“As in?” Juhani pressed.

“I knew a lot of great people there,” Mission offered halfheartedly.

“And a lot of terrible ones too, I bet,” Juhani added darkly.

“Well, I stayed away from the jerks,” Mission said nonchalantly.

“My parents could not and it cost them their lives,” Juhani argued.

“Oh,” Mission uttered apologetically.

“I didn't know,” Ev said gently, “I'm sorry.”

“What has passed has passed,” Juhani said, taking deep breaths to calm herself.

“But it was still home, though,” Mission said lamely.

“That it was,” Juhani nodded slowly. “I think, somehow, I still miss it, even after the dream I lived on Dantooine.”

Just then, Bastila stormed through. She approached Ev, but seeing Juhani beside her, she huffed angrily, turned on her heels, and strode out again. In the moment that Bastila and Ev's eyes met, something unsaid seemed to pass between them, but Ev remained where she was even after Bastila left.

“What's with her?” Canderous asked with an amused chuckle.

Zaalbar shrugged and played down another card.

Meanwhile both Juhani and Ev stared after her for a moment before resuming their conversation.

Sighing, Carth put down the datapad. “I'm not getting any reading done anyway,” he muttered and headed after Bastila. He found her staring out the viewport in the women's bunk room.

“Anything I can do for you Bastila?” Carth asked.

“No,” she sighed angrily, “No there isn't.” After a moment, she added, “I don't understand why that Cathar Jedi had to come along. She so recently fell to the Dark Side, she could be a danger to our mission.”

“But Ev brought her back,” Carth offered.

“Ev may have convinced her of the merits of the Light Side again, but will it last? She has tasted the Dark Side once already,” Bastila continued, still staring out at the swirling hyperspace.

“I don't know much about the Force,” Carth admitted, “But you two can keep a close watch on her. If Malak is still after you, we'll need all the help we can get to protect you from him.”

“You may be right,” Bastila agreed grudgingly and sighed. She turned towards Carth and sunk onto the nearest bunk. “But she still outranks me.”

“Outranks? What do you mean?” Carth asked,

“Didn't you see her robes?” Bastila snapped. Upon seeing Carth's confused expression, she explained, “Oh, well, I'm sure you wouldn't be able to tell the difference in Jedi robes. They have made her a full Jedi Knight even despite her fall. I have fought the Dark Lord and won in a battle that took the life of my master. I escaped the destruction of Taris. I have been assigned to lead a mission that could change the fate of the entire galaxy, and yet the Jedi Council still does not see it fit to raise me above the rank of a Padawan.”

“I can't pretend to know their logic,” Carth tried to comfort her, “But they have to have a good reason for it.”

“I,” she stammered, “I'm sorry Carth. I shouldn't have gotten so worked up about it. It is selfish of me to be so concerned about my rank and how the Jedi Council sees me. I should not be comparing myself to that Cathar. Especially when there is so much more to be concerned with, like completing this mission and continuing Ev's training.”

Carth had nothing he could say in response.

“Is the crew all assembled together?” Bastila asked suddenly. When Carth nodded, she said, “I should talk with all of them about what is to come.” Bastila rose and swept past Carth and down the corridor. Shrugging, he followed after her, muttering, “Jedi...”

“I have to thank you all for joining us on this mission,” Bastila began professionally from where she stood in the doorway.

Carth hung behind her for a moment, but soon realized that this wouldn't be short. He took his seat again. The rest of the crew were right where he left them, except Zaalbar and Ev had traded places at the pazaak table.

“I'm sure you all understand the secrecy we must keep in our journey,” Bastila continued, “Even if we run into old friends, we must not disclose our purpose to anyone. If Darth Malak were to find out, it would mean disaster for us and for the entire galaxy. I'm sure you all understand the gravity of what we are doing.”

Juhani and Mission nodded thoughtfully but Carth felt as lost as ever.

“Actually, Bastila, we don't,” Carth pointed out defensively, “You haven't told us anything, really, about what the Jedi Council is having you, no, all of us do. What did they tell you when you met with them yesterday?”

“Frankly, Carth, that's none of your business,” Bastila said dryly, “The mission will be safer the less you all know.”

“But we have to know something,” Carth argued, “Throw us a bone here.”

“Like I said,” Bastila repeated irritably, “It's none of your business.”

“Actually, I think it is,” Ev verbally stepped in, staring down Bastila with her intense dark eyes, “Carth has a point. They could all be elsewhere doing things they enjoy and not on this secretive, and not to mention dangerous, mission. Why should they care about what we're doing if they don't even know what it is.”

“Ev,” Bastila growled warningly, “It should suffice to say then, that we are retracing the steps of Revan and Malak during their fall to the dark side to see if we find some way to stop them that does not involve fleet to fleet contact.”

“It has something to do with that star map then, and the Star Forge,” Carth put in.

For a moment, Bastila stared coldly at him then looked away. “I'm not saying any more,” she replied succinctly.

“Bastila, you're being a terrible leader again,” Ev said casually, earning a glare from the younger woman. Pivoting on her chair to face as many of the crew members, she answered for her, “Yes, we are looking for the Star Forge. In that temple, there was a star map, but it didn't have all the information we need. We're following the trail it did give us in order to pick up more clues about the Star Forge itself. At least, that's our hope. We—”

“Ev,” Bastila said sternly, “That's enough.”

“You know what, Bastila? Fine,” Ev snapped, standing up suddenly, “I don't care if you dig yourself a hole. Just go on thinking that you know best in everything. I don't care.” She stormed out of the cabin and away.

“What a frustrating—!” Bastila muttered. Without another word, she too stormed off in another direction.

“I would have thought,” Juhani ventured, “that with their Force bond, Bastila and Ev Pell would have treated each other more like sisters.”

“Have you ever seen sisters fight?” Mission asked with a laugh.

“Well, I did not have any sisters...” Juhani replied slowly.

“From what I've seen,” Mission said, trying to sound wise despite her age, “You should be glad you didn't.”

Zaalbar rumbled his agreement.

“They've been like that every since they met on Taris,” Mission continued. “And I still don't think Bastila believes Ev when she says that if it weren't for her, she would have still been down on the surface when Malak blew the planet apart looking for her.”

Juhani suddenly sat up straight, her eyes flashing, “You mean to say that it was because of Bastila, because of all of you, that Darth Malak destroyed Taris?”

“It seems that way,” Carth said hesitantly. The Cathar woman was getting angry and he had already witnessed once what anger could to do her. “Darth Malak is pretty desperate to find Bastila.”

“So it is your fault that the place of all of my childhood memories was destroyed!” she exclaimed. Carth didn't see her stand up, but she was suddenly on her feet.

“Calm down, Juhani,” Mission urged fruitlessly, “It's not their fault. Malak is crazy, that's all.”

“No,” she whispered dangerously, measuring each of the others in the cabin with a dangerous yellow glare, “It's because of you that—” she stopped herself. Taking a deep breath she chanted angrily, “There is no emotion, there is peace. There is no emotion...” Muttering under her breath, she too slipped out of the room. “I'll go spar with that droid remote...”

Zaalbar howled a comment.

Mission nodded in agreement, “Yeah, I thought so too. I always heard that Jedi were all serene and peaceful and stuff like that.”

Canderous just laughed, “We've just got three crazy ones. Better watch your backs.”

“They're not all...” Carth found himself starting to defend them to the other crew members. Ev isn't that crazy, is she? “You know, I think I'm going to go read some more of the front line reports,” he said suddenly and got up. It was a lie. He hurried off, leaving only the three pazaak players still in the central cabin.

Carth wandered the Ebon Hawk looking for Ev. Juhani was either sulking or meditating in the back of the cargo hold while Bastila had locked herself up in the women's bunk. The rest of the ship seemed otherwise empty. Passing under the gun turret shaft, he noticed the hatch was open. Ev. Well, maybe she wants to be alone... Somehow, curiosity got the better of him, and he ascended the ladder.

Even before he got his shoulders all the way through the opening at the top, she said, “So you find me here again, Onasi.”

“Ev, I...” he started, climbing far enough up to rest on the edge of the opening. There wasn't room for him to go any farther in, so his feet dangled below.

“I'm sorry about Bastila,” Ev said, not looking at him. “You were right to be mad at her. Only, I'm not allowed to be.”

“I don't get why you Jedi aren't allowed to have emotions,” Carth commented, “It was all over the literature I read back on Dantooine, and yet there were always other stories of children of Jedi here and there.”

“Emotion, especially strong ones like anger, hate, fear, and even love can lead to irrational decisions, selfishness, and ultimately the dark side,” Ev said, as if she were reciting from a book, “Such emotions can make you lose control of yourself. When you have so much power, like the Jedi do, you have to be careful with it or you could hurt people.”

“You don't sound like you believe it,” Carth observed.

“I'm supposed to,” Ev said frustratedly, “But, Onasi, the thing is, I've lived like any other person for the last thirty years of my life. It's not like there's a button you can push and, bam, no more emotions. Maybe that's why they didn't want to train me at first, saying I was too old. It's easy to brain wash little kids, but not people like me. I'm too set in my ways already.”

“It still go asking me for a lecture on the rules and practices of the Jedi,” Ev shrugged, “Bastila is far better at that.”

Carth chuckled, “Thanks, but no thanks. You know, I still don't get why they sent you along on this mission. The other Jedi kept saying how your training wasn't done and how you weren't really ready. Why didn't they just keep you there?”

“Are you implying that you'd rather I didn't come along?” Ev snapped.

“No, no, no,” Carth protested quickly, “It's just strange, that's all. The both of you are Padawans, and Juhani just got knighted. You'd think they'd send along a Jedi Master if it was that important.”

“Well, for one, there's this bond I have with Bastila, so she wants me close,” Ev continued defensively. “And for two, there's the visions we both had about the Dark Lords. I guess maybe they're hoping that we'll have more of them together. As to the lack of a Master, the Council kept stressing how low profile this had to be. If they put a Jedi Master on the mission with us, it would just attract more attention, which is what we don't need.”

“Fair enough,” Carth said slowly, wishing he hadn't asked in the first place. He could hear the frustration in Ev's voice again. She had probably come here to calm down, not to get angry again. He let her have her silence again, but remained where he was.

“I bet you're glad to be getting going again, Lieutenant,” Ev commented, looking down at him from the gunner's seat.

“Yeah,” Carth agreed, “You have no idea how good it feels to be actually doing something again. And you don't have to call me that any more, you know.”

“What? Lieutenant?” she asked, “You still are one, aren't you?”

“Yes, but you're not a soldier any more,” Carth pointed out, “You're a Jedi.”

“Fair enough,” Ev chuckled, “Try to break me of the habit then. Though, backtracking a bit, you didn't call what you did with the Mandalorians, cath hounds, and looking for that lost droid something useful?”

“It was something to do, I guess, and it helped people in a little way,” Carth shrugged, “But I'm a career soldier. When I think of doing something, I want to be out with the fleet.”

“Well, we're not rendezvousing with the fleet any time soon. I hate to break it to you,” Ev replied.

“You know what I mean,” Carth retorted.

“Though, I've got to disagree with you,” Ev said.

“On what?” Carth asked, missing where the debate started.

“Maybe picking off cath hounds and a pack of bucket-heads didn't seem like much to you,” Ev said thoughtfully, “but you saved people's lives, and that is a big difference.”

Carth nodded slowly, “I guess you're right.” She always seems to be. He changed the subject, “I know we're headed to Kashyyyk right now, but where to after that? If you're not going to go all enigmatic on me, that is.”

“I don't see what Bastila's problem is anyway,” Ev muttered, then answered more clearly, “The star map we saw was incomplete. It definitely had markers for Kashyyyk, Dantooine, Korriban, Manaan, and Tatooine. The plan, last I checked, was to check out each of those planets until we can find a clear path to the Star Forge. My bet is that at least those planets were all a part of the Builder's Infinite Empire. If they were there once, maybe they left more maps or other clues.”

“Seems like a pretty big assumption to base this whole mission on,” Carth commented dubiously.

“Maybe it is,” Ev shrugged, “But it's all we've got. Unless you happen to know everything about the lives and habits of the Builders.”

“You've got me there,” Carth admitted.

“Master Dorak scoured the Dantooine archives and found no mention of anything that could have possibly been the Builders. He had the Jedi on Coruscant and in all of the other enclaves around the galaxy looking too. No one found anything,” Ev said, “I think someone even went and asked the Drall too. Nothing. And they have better records than anyone.”

“You would think that if there was a species that widespread and powerful, that someone would have some kind of record of it,” Carth speculated.

“Onasi, remember what that droid said,” Ev reminded him, “The last known siting of a Builder, at least on Dantooine, was over five thousand years before the formation of the Galactic Republic. That's pre-hyperspace engines.”

“Then how did they build an empire all over the galaxy?” Carth asked, baffled.

“That's the thing!” Ev said, slapping her leg, “It's crazy. They had huge technology while so many other civilizations were just getting started. If they could travel through hyperspace and had this ultimate weapon in the Star Forge, it's no wonder they enslaved other planets. I just wonder who they were and why we never see them today. What could have made an empire so powerful fall, leaving hardly a trace.”

“In my career,” Carth started retrospectively, “I have traveled all over the galaxy. I've seen lots of things that have surprised me. But, the thing is, I always know that no matter where I go, there will always be new surprising things. This galaxy is so vast. Just think, if an entire ancient empire could escape our notice, how much more is there out there that we don't even know exists.”

“And that's the exciting thing about it, isn't it?” Ev agreed with a smile.

- Next Part -

 

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